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Breaking down Brexit

Anyone with some sort of political acumen has an opinion on the primary issue dominating British politics, Brexit. It has hard to employ the word in any sort of discourse or context without feelings of dismay ascending, either because of the lies or connotations that come by implication to the word, these obviously include identity, nationalism and immigration. Whether or not one is a Brexiter, the issue has become heavily polluted, however the thing that I find most infuriating and most dangerous is that the EU debate, held over a year ago, was devoid of any holistic examination about the implications and consequences of the United Kingdom’s potential exit from the European Union. Only now are we seeing the consequences of this, as Prime Minister May struggles to gain any sort of traction in her quest to depart the institution.

Firstly, it needs to be acknowledged that the EU are a bureaucratic and aristocratic panel of unelected and undemocratic, sovereign representatives, existing purely to satisfy and satiate cooperate interests. They are largely responsible for the centralisation of capital and wealth in Europe and the West and have contributed to the dearth of progress in developing counties. Yet, despite this very sufficient ineptitude, the argument most heavily proliferated against the EU has been related to immigration. This may be a question for another debater article, but are there deeper structural powers at play here? Because, surely, if the EU’s politics was the problem, then the aforementioned reason would be a more prudent and politically legitimate issue to raise.

Moving on however, by implication of the EU’s political sovereignty, the EU are integral to every part of British infrastructure. As Britain continues to establishes it self as a champion of the single market, propositioned by the EU, essential facets of British society engrosses itself into the EU’s remit. This includes the foundations of society’s structures; trains, buildings, planning regulations all go through procurement processes laid down by the EU and this is essential to Britain’s economy in both a financial and functionality capacity. The importance of this is evidence, yet it begs the question, why was this not mentioned in the debate?

Furthermore, the EU is heavily engrossed in Britain’s research assembly. This is again by implication of having a political system that is so heavily engrossed into the EU’s productivity The UK is one of the largest recipients of research funding from the EU. Over the period 2007 to 2013 the UK received €8.8 billion out of a total of the €107 billion expenditure available to research, development and innovation in EU Member States, associated and third countries. This represents the fourth largest share in the EU. In terms of funding awarded on a competitive basis in the period 2007 – 2013, the UK was the second largest recipient after Germany, securing €6.9 billion out of a total of €55.4 billion. Why again, was this not mentioned in the debate?

 

Then finally, economics. Through access to the single market, London has been able to attract institutional and corporate investment from Europe and beyond these shores. Why again, was this not mentioned in the debate? Conversely, on a different dynamic, with an estimated population of 8,615,246 residents, London is the most populous region, urban zone and metropolitan area in the United Kingdom. London generates approximately 22% of the UK’s GDP, with 41,000 private sector businesses based in London (at the start of 2013). The lack of economic, political and opportunistic devolution in the UK is indicative of the EU’s operational structure. The single market is the most lucrative version of itself in a centralised system where money, labour and politics transpires in the same space, because investors would rather invest in one super-economy with extravagant returns (London), than invest in a split of many healthy economies around where the returns may be more stable but less spectacular. This surely, like my first elucidation, is a far more prudent argument to make against the EU, than a largely fabricated narrative about immigration (which I will clarify in another debater article).

Conclusively, the thing that I am most trying to infer here is that the current format of political destitution and reporting, from both the politicians and the media, needs renovation. In the context of Brexit; the state of political analysis was repugnant. The aforementioned issues, that both highlights the advantages and disadvantages of being an EU member state, was largely ignored and a narrative manifested itself that seemed to purely oppose the establishment or at least a perception of an establishment. Is politics not supposed to be about creating a better society? Well you could have fooled me!

The Harvey Weinstein Culture

Over the past few weeks, I’ve watched on silently at the news concerning Harvey Weinstein, frustrated and disgusted yet equally unsurprised. The world appeared aghast. Harvey Weinstein isn’t the first of his kind. And the type of behaviour he displayed was and is not uncommon in a multitude of industries, ones I have worked in myself before.  Whatever the industry, there will always be a Harvey Weinstein. What we need is to eradicate the culture, to lose the phrase “it happens”. Our work starts there. The moment we refuse to accept it at the norm, that’s the point at which we can begin to work on eradicating it altogether. There are far too many cases of sexual harassment forgotten about, never mentioned, never reported, slipped under the rug.

The fact is, that despite being 2017 and all the progress we’ve made in a number of areas, we’ve also regressed. If a woman speaks out about sexual harassment in the workplace, it is HER that is looked upon unfavourably and it is HER that is feared for all the wrong reasons. Fear that she may cause an embarrassing lawsuit of some kind. But wait a second, what about the sexual predator that harassed her in the first place? Are we forgetting we have greater reason to be afraid of him?

There are laws in place to protect exactly the type of behaviour that women were subjected to by Weinstein, yet when women seek protection through such laws, they are often denied it and subsequently ostracised.

To be a feminist, you’ll agree, you don’t need to stand up on a pillar, wave about your flag and rant and complain about men. You just, at times like these, need to be brave enough to stand up for yourself. To recognise that the world isn’t defined by what some men who hold the most senior positions in certain industries believe; that the only way you can be successful is to respond positively to their sexual advancements. Your sexuality, your beauty, the way you dress, all of these things are not and should not be the reason for your promotion. Dress to power dress, not to please.

Yes, the world rallied round all the women who were mistreated by Harvey Weinstein. But the point is not support in the aftermath. Its the fact that the world and the film industry allowed this to happen in the first place! Your actions would have greater impact in the moment. If something isn’t right, doesn’t feel right, doesn’t seem fair, I urge you not to be afraid to just at the very least make clear your basic human rights. As a woman, I am disappointed that we are still not yet being completely valued for our achievements and instead are seen in almost tunnel-vision fashion; as sexual objects. Rather than as remarkable individuals, with the power to achieve and to be successful in whatever we may desire. But I am equally, if not, more disappointed, as a human being, that we are letting one another down. More than 50 women have come forward about Harvey Weinstein’s actions. Its 2017, this is just not acceptable. Not acceptable in a world where we’ve come so far in terms of healthcare and protection and security. A world in which to become a vet, you require more than 5 different checks. And this is exactly the same world in which Harvey Weinstein sexually assaulted and harassed over 50 women. How on earth did he slip the net? How could we, did we, let that happen? I ask you then, where is security, law and order, and protection when we need it most? It seems our own systems are failing us.

And the truth is, it starts with us. Failing to report something only serves to condone the behaviour of the likes of Harvey Weinstein. We are failing each other. Always speak up. No matter how frightening the situation, integrity can never be a bad thing.

Let’s not live in a world where we make reporting a sexual crime, or any crime for that matter, a taboo. We have worked hard to create the democratic, civilised society we live in today and as the years go on, it’s in real danger of slipping right through our fingers.

The Nordic Model and Compassionate Capitalism

The term “Nordic Model” refers to the broad spectrum of social, economic and political culture associated with the countries of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland. These policies are relatively left-ward leaning in nature, which results in the unique Scandinavian mix of social democracy and free-market economics. This leads to a highly unionised labour force, an emphasis on collective bargaining under government mediation whilst simultaneously commiting to private ownership and free-trade.

It is typical of Scandinavians to accept a high level of taxation with the expectation that these taxes be used to support high quality public sector services such as hospitals, schools and transport infrastructure. It helps that these countries have some of the lowest corruption rates in the world: Sweden at rank 4, Finland at 3 and Denmark at 1 on the Corruption Perceptions Index (p. 22, Transparency International, 2016). Additionally, these countries enjoy some of the lowest levels of inequality of any region in the world because of its “universalist” approach to building a welfare state.

So, my question is; is it better to focus single-mindedly on a metric of political success that puts so much emphasis on GDP and economic growth, when to instead focus on a more compassionate capitalism can lead to more personal contentment and happiness? Our answer becomes all the more important once we note the fact that Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Finland take up four of the top five places in the World Happiness Index (UN, 2017). Just what kind of society do we want to build? One which works towards the increase of arbitrary numbers and statistics, or one which values the experience of those who live within its borders?

“Corruptions Perception Index 2016″ Transparency International, 2016, accessed at: https://www.transparency.org/news/feature/corruption_perceptions_index_2016 (on 16/10/2017)

“World Happiness Report 2017″, United Nations, 2017, accessed at: http://worldhappiness.report/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2017/03/HR17.pdf (on 16/10/2017)

Should we worry about North Korea?

Should we worry about North Korea?

Since the beginning of Donald Trump’s presidency, tensions between the U.S. and North Korea have increased, with Kim Jong-Un conducting the Norths 6th nuclear test on the 3rd September 2017. Increasingly heated rhetoric has taken ever more unprecedented forms; we have seen a flurry of insults with Mr Kim bringing the word ‘dotard’ into public discourse, and Trump declaring the NK leader to be a ‘madman.’ Threats of ‘fire and fury’ have echoed from the Whitehouse, and after Trump threatened to ‘totally destroy’ the people’s republic in a speech at the UN, Mr Kim stated the U.S. would ‘pay dearly’ for such remarks.[1] While Trumps use of twitter to state NK ‘won’t be around much longer’[2]  if threats continue certainly represents a unique approach to international diplomacy, and may appear concerning, it is important not to overstate the threat faced firstly by NK, and subsequently from Trump’s slapdash approach in confronting it.

Behind the rhetoric you should first observe the intentions of Pyongyang in pursuit of a nuclear programme. The number one goal of all states is survival; in international relations and from the perspective of offensive realism, states behave as rational actors with survival as the prime objective in an anarchical international system, when states can never be certain of the intentions of others.[3] As a result, rather than absolute power, states seek as much power relative to others as possible; because states are assumed rational, the best way to ensure your survival is to become powerful enough to deter an attack. As the BBC acknowledged, the North Korean government reasons that developing their nuclear capability ‘would protect the government by raising the costs of toppling it,’[4] which on some level appears rational. After all, from Pyongyang’s perspective, the U.S. has an estimated 35,000 troops in South Korea, 40,000 personnel in Japan,[5] a powerful nuclear arsenal and a track record of toppling state leaders.[6] Behind the rhetorical threats therefore, the actions of NK in attempting to acquire a nuclear capability likely reflects its wish for security, not a war which could have no benefit for anyone.

Secondly, while the tone and style of communication between Washington and Pyongyang has changed, we have experienced great tensions before and the position of the U.S. has always been clear. In 1994 during the Clinton administration, the U.S. nearly went to war with North Korea in order to halt its nuclear programme after the International Atomic Energy Agency was denied access to NK’s nuclear sites.[7] After despatching greater forces to South Korea, to the obvious alarm and mobilization of the North, the diplomacy of former president Jimmy Carter diffused tensions and avoided military confrontation.[8]

To be clear, this is a deeply complex issue with myriad contributing factors, effecting any calculation of threat potential. These include the role of North Korean identity politics, the potential desperate actions of Pyongyang in the aftermath of a maintained sanctions in the form of a boycott of North Korean trade, and possible miscalculations from Washington. However, diplomacy tends to win out, as neither side wants war, and while Trump’s correspondence with the north appears confrontational, the fundamental message remains consistent to his predecessors; diplomacy is preferred, but the U.S. will not hesitate to the American people and allies by any means necessary.

[1] BBC News, ‘North Korea: Trump and Kim call each other mad,’ BBC News, (2017) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-41356836

[2] Julia Allen, ‘Donald Trump warns Kim Jong-un ‘won’t be around much longer,’ The Telegraph, (2017) Available Online: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/09/24/donald-trump-warns-kim-jong-un-wont-around-much-longer/

[3] John Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, (U.S.: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2001) 36

[4] BBC News, ‘North Korea-US tensions: How worried should you be?’ (2017) Available Online: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-40882877

[5] Oliver Holmes, ‘What is the US military’s presence near North Korea?’ (2017) Available Online: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/aug/09/what-is-the-us-militarys-presence-in-south-east-asia

[6] BBC News, ‘North Korea-US tensions: How worried should you be?’ (2017) Available Online: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-40882877

[7] Leon V. Sigal, ‘The North Korean Nuclear Crisis: Understanding The Failure of the ‘Crime-and-Punishment’ Strategy,’ Arms Control Association, (1997) Available Online: https://www.armscontrol.org/act/1997_05/sigal

[8] Leon V. Sigal, ‘The North Korean Nuclear Crisis: Understanding The Failure of the ‘Crime-and-Punishment’ Strategy,’ Arms Control Association, (1997) Available Online: https://www.armscontrol.org/act/1997_05/sigal

 

 

Sources

Allen. J, ‘Donald Trump warns Kim Jong-un ‘won’t be around much longer,’ The Telegraph, (2017)

BBC News, ‘North Korea: Trump and Kim call each other mad,’ BBC News, (2017)

BBC News, ‘North Korea-US tensions: How worried should you be?’ (2017)

Sigal. Leon V, ‘The North Korean Nuclear Crisis: Understanding The Failure of the ‘Crime-and-Punishment’ Strategy,’ Arms Control Association, (1997)

Mearsheimer. John, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, (U.S.: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2001

Donald Trump and The Consequences of Society’s “Attention Deficit”

January 20th of this year seems so long ago now, but I implore you to cast your mind back, as many media moguls and tycoons do so fondly; a day for headlines. Of course, it arrived in tow with obligatory cries of fake news and unprofessional reporting; as pictures circulated on social media showing the extensive size or lack thereof regarding the crowd gathered for Donald Trump’s inauguration. This of course sparked debate across the USA and indeed the world; once again lavishing Mr. Trump with the attention he so desperately needs to sustain his ever-burgeoning ego.

Media coverage proved to be a cornerstone of the Trump campaign and indeed it seems likely to play a large role in his presidency. Though many are always willingly enthralled by the President’s latest faux-pas, the result of this 24-hour Big Brother Trump-watch is often that many more important stories go without remark. This phenomenon reveals the true nature of the global media and thus, as consumers of information, we find ourselves bound by an attention deficit; there is an unspecified, finite amount of attention to be divided among various issues. Regarding this, Trump’s titanic share of the day’s headlines can be manipulated by Republican leaders and his administrations’ various antics used to distort the visibility of vastly more important issues.



Famous psycholinguist-turned-activist Noam Chomsky in “A Continuing Conversation with Geographers” commented specifically concerning Trump’s ‘Russia scandal’ and about the way news coverage has been manipulated by high-ranking legislative representatives:

parts of the governmental structure that are beneficial to human beings and to future generations are being systematically destroyed, and with very little attention.

(Noam Chomsky Videos, July 2017)

Chomsky outlines the way in which single-minded programs are being employed by what he identifies as ‘Paul Ryan Republicans’, their prerogative being: offer gifts to the rich and powerful, and “kick everyone else in the face”. (ibid.)

              So, it seems clear that Republicans in both the Senate and the House have come to recognise the utility of Trump in the White House, in fact, they are able to constantly rely upon Trump and his administration as a deflector of negative attention. This allows them to get to work dismantling Obama Care and reducing funding for public welfare programs. But beyond this, perhaps the reality: that there is a distinctly finite amount of attention that the public has at its disposal, is itself a threat to a healthy, modern democracy? Could the fact that, on a cognitive level, we can only follow so many narratives, lead us to become ignorant of what is really going on – of what really matters?

 

How many stories did you miss today?

Debate Essentials

Debating in public, whether at university or college can seem like an intimidating prospect. The possibility of forgetting your lines, stumbling over your words or even being embarrassed by an opponent are enough to put many off.

This paints a rather daunting picture. So how can these nerves be defeated? And, how can you ensure that you perform to your best in a debating environment?

These are some potential do’s and don’ts which should hopefully offer some guidance on how you can overcome any issues and reach your debating peak.

Do’s

Be Yourself

Every individual person is different. Not all can be great orators, have perfect comedic timing or even be able to retain a lot of information. However, this does not mean that you cannot be an effective debater.

This means you should be confident in your own individual style. There is no point trying to be something that you are not. You need to play to your strengths. Debate in a way and a manner that you feel comfortable with and highlights who you are as a person.

Know Your Argument

A successful debater will have a strong grasp of their brief. They will be able to provide detailed information and answers on their topic. This means knowing your facts. No matter how you are feeling, having a good grasp of these details is crucial.

A failure to understand your argument or do the necessary research can make you look foolish and can give an advantage to your opponent. Not all the facts or detail has to be used, but you should be prepared to use them if necessary.

Practice

You will not be able to replicate the exact style or format of the debate, but that does not mean you should not practice (bringing friends along to change the atmosphere can also help!) Practice can help with your confidence and can make you feel more secure in your arguments and positions.

Once you are confident with your argument, it is then vital to be able to turn off. Over practising can be potentially damaging and can often make you more nervous. Each individual has to find their optimum level of comfort and walk away from practice when the time is right.

Try and Enjoy Yourself

This is easier said than done! However, it is good to remember why you have put yourself in this place in the first time. This is something that you feel passionate about and that you enjoy. This shouldn’t feel like a chore.

Once you have begun to make your points, you will find that you settle down and that your nerves will begin to dissipate. When this happens, it is quite natural to begin to enjoy yourself and feel comfortable in your environment.

 

Don’ts

Get Angry

Anger is not your friend. Anger will take you out of your comfort zone and will lead you to stop focussing on your argument and the points that you want to make. From a basic perspective, this will make you less effective.

This does not mean that you shouldn’t be passionate, but there is a clear difference between passion and anger. Understanding this, and understanding how to control your emotions is key for anyone in a debate format.

Get Personal

Personal arguments do not win debates or make good speeches. They take the focus away from the points that you are making and give succour to your opponents who will believe they have been successful in dictating the terms.

It is also not good practice. Choosing to attack the man rather than the ball will make you careless. It will take your focus off your argument and your points and could form a habit. This is not a good habit for any debater to get themselves in.

Worry About Nerves

Nerves happy to everyone. No matter how many times you debate or how many times you speak you will always get nervous. Having nerves before you speak is not anything to worry about and in reality just makes you human.

In addition, don’t be concerned about mistakes. Mistakes also happen to everyone. If you don’t believe me just watch a debate in the House of Commons. When you make a mistake, the best thing to do is refocus and concentrate on your initial aim.

Worry about how You Sound

This seems like a really small issue, but is one that needs to be made. Very few people are comfortable with how they sound or how they speak. This can be blindingly evident when you speak in front of people for the first time.

As best as you can, this has to be put to the back of your mind. Remember, it is not how you are talking or the accent that you have that matters, but it is the points you are making. That is what must dictate your performance.

Conclusion

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but are just a few do’s and don’ts. It is firmly up to you whether you take this advice.

Anyway good luck and get debating!

 

What should we make of Labour’s new Brexit stance?

The debate around Brexit has focussed largely on the Conservative Party to date, but this week Labour sought to give further detail on their position. Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer in an article for The Observer confirmed the Labour Party would seek a transitional deal with the EU and would hope to remain in the Customs Union and the Single Market during this period.

The transitional period would be “as short as possible, but as long as necessary” and in that period the country would abide by the common rules of both the customs union and the single market. This means that throughout this transitional stage freedom of movement would continue.

The reaction in the Labour Party to this announcement has been mixed. Chuku Umunna, a leading supporter of the pro-EU Open Britain group described the statement as a “most welcome announcement.” However, some at the top of the party described the move as “unwise” and “incredibly damaging.”

This debate has been ongoing behind the scenes in the Labour Party for some time, but will be analysed as a victory for the ‘Europhiles’ or the ‘Soft Brexit’ contingent of the party and represents a shift in position. Two months ago, Jeremy Corbyn sacked members of his front-bench after they supported an amendment designed to keep the UK in the Single Market and a month ago he confirmed Labour would leave the Single Market.

Although, this position is likely to gain favour with the pro-EU portions of Labour support in student areas and London in particular; it will not be universally popular. To the pro-Leave Labour supporters a transitional deal with no clear end and continued freedom of movement will feel like a betrayal. This could be damaging for the party in Leave marginals across the Midlands and the North.

Accepting the need for a transitional period is sensible from the Labour Party. The refusal, however, to clarify a clear end date for this transitional period will worry voters. Some voters may assess this as the Labour Party looking for a way to stay in the EU indefinitely and renege on their agreement to respect the referendum result.

The Labour Party could now face a difficult few months as they see how this policy lands with their voters and whether there will be any push-back.

State Surveillance: Mass surveillance, its impact and the principles we claim to uphold.

The mobile phones, laptops, desktops and GPS devices that you and I use every single day provide tremendous opportunities. In the year of my father’s birth (1951) had I stopped a man in the street and told him that his children and grandchildren would one day carry almost all information and data in existence in their jeans’ pockets he would have looked at me like I was unbalanced. What we now also know however is that whilst we are looking at our mobiles phones they are looking back at us and recording our every word and action. We too know that when entrusting every detail of our lives to a computer we invite this upon ourselves.

The panopticon is an idea in which due to clever design one prison guard can at any time see any prisoner in his cell but the prisoner never knows if  he or she is being watched. As a result, the prisoner alters his or her behaviour. Picture this on a massive scale and we have state surveillance in 2016. The Snowden revelations showed us that any of us may be being watched at any time but we will never know it.

Today in the UK we are debating the nuances of the issue with the ‘snooper’s charter’. The ‘snooper’s charter’ gives police greater powers to hack into mobile phones, view browser histories and perhaps most significantly undermines the common man’s last defence against surveillance. Encryption. The act forces ISPs to weaken or break their own encryption at the state’s request. Edward Snowden claimed encryption was a reliable way to  resist surveillance. If the state can simply wish it away, we are in effect defenceless. Surely by accepting this we accept a form of voluntary servitude. There is no precedent for absolute surveillance (Of which we know) and its value is of question. Mass surveillance did nothing to prevent the recent attacks in Paris and Brussells.

Edward Snowden claimed that the British security services operate an intelligence gathering regime in which “anything goes” (Cadwalladr, 2014). We would do well to ask ourselves if the authorities can be trusted to use this data responsibly or effectively. Data in a networked environment is often intangible and a lack of expertise in the area makes surveillance of online communications fraught with difficulty.

To seize data  is easy, any police department can do that, but to then access and analyse it is a different matter. Afterall, the internet isn’t merely a way to communicate. How we interact online is produced by and produces cultural and social practices that are not understood by academics or law enforecment. Is it wise that this online data be used against us in a court of law, to send us to prision and placed in the national press until we as a society really understand it.

In a democratic society based on the rights of the individual using the entire citizenry as a means to an end, by observing us all, whether it be in the prevention of a minor or major offense cannot be justified without  a fundamental shift in what democracy and the rights of the individual are and why they exist. This is Kantian thinking and is the ideological pillar on which many of our core democratic principles are based. If we allow ourselves to become perpetual instruments of law enforcement we consent to a shift of narrative within our socio-political society.

This may have already happened. The global intelligence regime is growing despite the overwhelming dissaproval of the public. A poll conducted across 13 countries by Amnesty International  found that 71% of 15,000 respondents strongly opposed government spying on their phone and internet communications (Amnesty International, 2015).

In opposition to this view one may state these laws exist to protect us. But I ask who is the state to protect us in exchange for our rights. Or perhaps these programmes simply exist for our peace of mind, but I then ask, who the state is to assume what brings you and I peace of mind. The Kantian line of thought would lead us to the view that guaranteeing security is the state’s responsibility but guaranteeing contentment requires the state to assume what we as individuals think and maunfacture our ideas of happiness. A bizarre kind of tyranny.

If we all agree that mass surveillance is morally wrong in and of itself then it should not be used. We would be much better served debating constitutional issues from this principled  perspective as opposed to a pragmatic one as there is always a reason flop on our principles. The does not mean we should always do so.

This goes back further than 9/11 and  is related to a culture of control that can be traced back several decades.  The threat posed by the Soviet Union was far greater and potentially far more dangerous than that we face today from Daesh and the Al Nusra Front. The reason these powers are required today has little to do with the scale of the threat and more to do with this need for control.

The UK has gone one an interesting journey since the Computer Misuse Act of 1990 which outlawed unauthorised access to a computer. The Terrorism Act of 2000 outlawed the use of a computer to glorify  or promote terrorism and now, in 2016, the state is reserving the neo-unconditional right to access the data of any man or women  in the name of stopping terrorism. An interesting, interconnected series of acts and manifestation of our government’s growing paranoia. Of note is the fact that the first cases of people being jailed under the Computer Misuse Act were as recent as 2013. This has real world consecuences. In 2012 the monitoring of communications by the security services led to five wrongful arrests in the UK.

Being perpetually aware that you may be being watched is enough to significantly alter human behaviour and what it means to be human in the internet age. State access to such a massive amount of data has not prevented some of the biggest terrorist attacks of our time, has led to gross abuses of power and will be misused and misunderstood until we as a society can better understand it.

In 2004 Richard Thomas, UK Information Commissioner, warned us of sleepwalking into a surveillance society. We may already be here.

 

State Surveillance: The bogeyman of our time?

In Response to ‘State Surveillance: Mass surveillance, its impact and the principles we claim to uphold’.

Did you ever get the feeling that someone was watching you? Did you act differently as a result? Maybe they were. But that’s not the point. Rather, the point is that it is natural to, every now and again, feel that. Paranoia over state surveillance has become the cultural bogeyman of our time. In reality, little has changed since the 1980s.

Credit cards, Oyster cards, log-in IDs and home security cameras are essentially a willing acceptance of surveillance that the state has always had the power to exploit and we said nothing. Police have been able to hack into mobile phones for years and as for private companies breaking encyption on request; private companies have and will be obliging to government whether formalised or not.

In the first 6 months of 2015 Apple provided information requested by the British government in 56% of cases relating to a device and 63% of cases in relation to a customer’s account, Google did the same in 75% of cases, Facebook in 78% of cases and Twitter in 52% of cases (Whitehead, 2016).

The author of ‘State Surveillance: Mass surveillance, its impact and the principles we claim to uphold’ cites the fact that ISPs will retain our data for one year under the terms of the Investigatory Powers Bill. If you have ever used an Oyster card you may know that information regarding any given journey on any given day was kept for eight weeks following your journey. What’s more, this information was useful to law enforcement.

So, what’s new? Rather than entering a dark new era resembling Orwell’s ‘1984’ the Investigatory Powers Bill merely makes the existing surveillance regime relevant in 2016.

We must not pretend that surveillance has no purpose. In ‘State Surveillance: Mass surveillance, its impact and the principles we claim to uphold’ it was suggested that perhaps these programmes exist to make us, the public, feel better and Kantian logic was used to put forward the view that the state has no right to decide what should make us happy. What is not mentioned is that the security services foiled 7 major terrorist attacks on UK soil between November 2014 and November 2015 by Daesh alone. In this time Paris saw the Charlie Hebdo massacre and later the tragic deaths of 130 people. Perhaps this is related to the ‘anything goes’(Cadwalladr, 2014) oversight regime our intelligence services enjoy as cited in that article. Perhaps it is mere coincidence that this is the case. But we have been presented with nothing to suggest it is.

Furthermore, he cannot seriously suggest that linguistics experts in conjunction with IT and communications professors from our finest universities cannot decipher the meanings of online communications. Is, for example, the innermost meaning of ‘meet me outside the train station at 8’ beyond the comprehension of MI5? I think not. What is beyond question is that this information could be essential in foiling a terrorist attack at Knightsbridge Station or Manchester Piccadilly.

As for the possibility of abuse of the system, this has always existed. However, even if theoretically possible it is beyond paranoid to believe that these brave men and women have the time or inclination to watch the 87 year-old Mrs. Griffith walking home from the supermarket. Mrs. Griffith’s freedom and agency to do as wishes, say what she wishes and express what she feels is protected under the Human Rights Act of 1998 and if she were to do something sinister  it is better that she be reprimanded.  Accepting that the state has any authority implies a kind of voluntary servitude. This does not make us slaves.

Furthermore, the s philosophical arguments in ‘State Surveillance: Mass Surveillance, its impact and the principles we claim to uphold’ simply cannot be applied to the modern world. If citizens should not be used as a means to an end the police should cease all covert operations. On top of this, whilst of intellectual interest his assertion that government attempting to make us happy is a ‘kind of tyranny’ is curious to say the least. If so, David Cameron’s attempt to ‘make happiness the new GDP’ represented the theft of our civil rights.

Utilitarianism is not of the same mind as Kantianism and would claim that all actions should, directly or indirectly, promote human wellbeing.  If a programme, effective or not, causes the population to feel safer, lowers anxiety and by extension allows us to live our lives in a more productive and contented manner surely this programme is a good thing. Social Contract theory –as prominent as the Kantian theory used by the author of the article in question- suggests that we must, through a cost-benefit analysis decide what is an is not reasonable. In a representative democracy this is the job of parliament and all standard operating procedures have been followed regarding the so called ‘snooper’s charter’.

The Investigatory Powers Bill is not the ideological or philosophical shift the author of ‘State Surveillance: Mass surveillance, its impact and the principles we claim to uphold’ would have us believe. Government surveillance should be taken seriously by us all and the potential for abuses is never to be ignored. But simply approaching any debate from a natural disposition of mistrust and suspicion is not the way for us as a society to make reasonable, responsible collective decisions on the nature of liberty, privacy and appropriate measures taken to protect us all.

 

 

 

 

 

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Sporting Controversies will Disrupt Relations with Russia

The recent controversy surrounding Russian sport reached a zenith with the publication of a report by the world anti-doping agency (WADA) accusing the Russian state of being complicit in an unprecedented deception of anti-doping regulations for Russian athletes. The repercussions of the report will be felt beyond the world of sport, and could make easing political and social tension with Russia increasingly difficult for Europe and the United States.

WADA’s report is the latest in a series of incidents that have greatly damaged Russia’s sporting and national image. It follows highly publicised incidents in Russia domestic football that show that homophobic and racist attitudes are rife amongst Russian football supporters, and the disturbing organised violence of Russian hooligans in France during the recent  European football championships.

A natural backlash against Russia has resulted, with Russian athletes banned from competing in the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Whilst this sort reaction is understandable, it could well reinforce a Cold War style ‘encirclement’ mentality in the minds of many ordinary Russians and politicians. This attitude, born out of the belief that Russia is encircled by hostile nations, was fuelled in the days of Stalin as a way of galvanising the Russian population against other nations that were mistrustful of the socialist path that the country had taken after the 1917 revolution. In the modern day, the proliferation of a similar way of thinking has dangerous implications when the need for deescalating tensions with Russia is paramount.

Other factors away from the world of sport are fanning the flames. Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian leadership style and foreign policy are reminiscent of the strategies employed by the USSR during the Cold War. This has undoubtedly contributed to the resurgence of a Cold War style mentality in Russia. Another factor that cannot be ignored is the need for national pride that has motivated the above controversies. The WADA report for instance, suggested that one of the motivations behind the doping scandal was the desire by the Russian government to enhance the performance of its athletes who were seen to have performed unacceptably in previous international athletics tournaments.

Russia must modernise its way of thinking and other nations must continue to tread carefully when imposing sanctions in sporting terms. These sanctions will fracture the relationship between Russia and the rest of the world further, at a time when the need for stability is desperate.

Counter-terrorism: Security Can’t Make Us Safe

Thursday 14th July. A man drove a lorry into a crowd of 30,000 people gathered to watch the Bastille Day fireworks from the seafront Promenade des Anglais. 84 people were killed in minutes, including more than 10 children.

In the days since we have seen familiar scenes. Francois Hollande has extended the national state of emergency. Theresa May has pledged greater security funding and a full review of security procedures in England. Boris Johnson condemned the “appalling” incident, which demonstrated “a continuing threat to us in the whole of Europe and we must meet it together”. But for all the condemnation, the calls for solidarity, vigilance, and stricter security measures, are we any safer?

Let’s assume – as everyone has done – that Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was an Islamic extremist. The fact remains that he had no known Jihadi links and his actions were totally unpredicted. France has officially been in a state of emergency since the Paris attacks in November and yet he went under the radar. Perhaps in the coming weeks we will discover that there was an oversight by police or counter-terrorism units. But there will always be gaps and mistakes. We live in an age where we spend more than ever on national security and yet we feel less and less safe. We need a new approach.

We need to address the motivation behind terrorism. What is it that drives individuals to commit unspeakable acts, to sacrifice their lives? Islam is a lazy answer. In an interview on CNN Reza Aslan made this point: “Islam is just a religion and just like every religion in the world it depends on what you bring to it… People are violent or peaceful, and that depends on their politics, their social world, the way that they see their communities, the way that they see themselves.” It takes more than religious belief to create a terrorist. You need political conviction, passion, perceived moral justification and, crucially, disenfranchisement. No-one takes the decision to kill themselves and murder innocent people lightly. A terrorist is someone who believes in a cause so strongly that they will sacrifice everything for it, someone who feels they have no other options. If we ignore the political and social factors that lead to radicalisation we miss a chance to prevent it.

Increasing security will not suppress radicalisation. In fact mass surveillance, detainment without trial, racial profiling, tightening of immigration and media contempt all contribute to it. It is not enough to tell them that they are wrong – we must convince them that they are wrong, convince those at risk of radicalisation that there is hope, that the west is not at war with Islam, that violence is not the only route to change and that their concerns are being heard. In order to prevent terrorism we must address the motivation behind it. Until we do so we won’t be safe.